Mystery fans are a different kind of reader. They want a story that engages them and makes them think.
A lot of readers like to race the protagonist to solving the mystery, so laying out a plot with just enough detail to keep the reader’s interest but not so much that the solution is obvious is a skill mystery writers develop and hone over time.
If you want to try your shot at it, here are thirty-eight mystry writing prompts to get you started!
- A bizarre heist results in an empty safe…well, empty except for the mysterious infant the burglars left behind.
- Partygoers are confused to realize the birthday girl is dead and they’ve been invited to her twisted idea of postmortem amusement.
- Girls at a boarding school receive anonymous threatening notes.
- A team of criminals breaks into an eccentric billionaire’s home while he’s supposed to be on vacation. It’s going well, until they find the billionaire dead in the pool.
- In a small town, the members of the church start to go missing–no bodies have been found. When a local news reporter arrives to cover the story, she thinks something might be up with the pastor.
- The new nanny for a rich family finds some disturbing footage the security camera captured. What is the mother up to?
- For some reason, one section of the trail has been blocked off for longer than any of the park rangers can remember. One backpacker sets out to discover why.
- Markus sleepwalks. He sometimes dreams of distorted versions of what he did during the night, but when he wakes up clutching a bloody knife, he has absolutely no memory of what happened the night before.
- A woman’s pet sitting the parakeet next door for an old woman. One morning, the parakeet is missing. Who took it? Why?
- A character is flipping through their grandmother’s recipe book when they find a recipe of surprising ingredients for something that definitely isn’t food. Do they experiment to see what it is?
- While on a family vacation on a remote island, a tourist discovers a local resident’s missing heirloom on the beach. The resident believes the tourist took it. What happens next?
- Elizabeth snags a tutoring job for a new family on the edge of town. Her first day, the child gives her a house tour, specifically pointing out a locked door at the end of the hall that no one is allowed into. When Elizabeth sneaks in, what does she find?
- Write from the perspective of a detective who is fired just before she can crack the case she’s been working on for years.
- At a destination wedding, the groom goes missing. Good thing the maid of honor is a detective.
- One of the town council members is draining money from the town’s funds, but the new intern can’t prove it. Yet.
- At a ski resort, disaster strikes. Then it strikes again. Every time there’s a tragedy, a wolf appears. Why is it there?
- On an international flight, a man is found dead in the bathroom. It looks like a natural death… Except for an hour later, someone else dies in exactly the same way.
- High school students work to figure out where their friend has vanished to the night before graduation.
- An intern for a Parisian designer finds a secret code stitched into one of the gowns. Who is the designer communicating with?
- A politician hires an undercover cop to find out whether their spouse has been cheating, but what the undercover cop reports is much, much worse.
- The day after a CEO is fired, someone breaks into their abandoned office and steals only a single hard drive. What was on that hard drive? Write from the perspective of a detective hired to get it back.
- All over the country, an enormous number of people are reporting their pets missing. Where have they all gone?
- A businesswoman’s grandfather dies, leaving behind a ranch. When she goes to inspect the property, she finds a corpse in his freezer.
- An estranged family gathers for the funeral of their patriarch at his southern plantation. The granddaughter finds a puzzling message etched into a tombstone in the family graveyard. Is it from her grandfather?
- Three sisters revisit their childhood treehouse. They find a note inside telling them it isn’t safe to go back to their homes. Why isn’t it safe? Who left the note?
- Someone is turning off the utilities for every rich person in town.
- One night, someone replaces every piece of famous art in a museum with a replica. Write from the perspective of the art student who notices the fakes.
- Benjamin inherits a thirty-year-old parrot, and the parrot has some interesting things to say about her previous owner.
- Film students rent a cabin to shoot their final movie. When they watch the footage back, there’s a stranger in the background of every shot.
- The local pizza shop owner swears someone’s been trying to run his business into the ground. He hires a P.I. to find out who’s behind the strange goings-on at his restaurant. What’s been happening?
- Marissa has never seen a cat in her town until one day there are thousands of them.
- A girl applies to a specialized boarding school–not for the curriculum, but for the unsolved cold case murder, she’s been obsessed with for years.
- Shelayne receives an anonymous letter inviting her to an unspecified event at midnight with an address deep in the French Quarter. She wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t signed with the insignia she’s seen around her grandfather’s house for years. The address brings her to a seemingly empty alleyway. A door in the wall opens.
- On vacation, a teen and their family take a tour of a southern plantation. Bored, the teen lags behind to goof off. That’s when they see the ghost.
- A spoiled son is snooping in his dad’s home office for some extra cash, but what he finds is proof his dad has been wiring cash to every member of their household except him…for years. What is he paying them for?
- A group of friends decide to play a prank on the annoying kid in class. That night, they arrive at his house, but what they see in the window makes them leave fast.
- When Micah’s best friend is blackmailed, he decides to get to the bottom of it, starting with his best friend’s ex.
- A housekeeper has been with their employer through five marriages, each ending in the wife disappearing, going on an extended vacation and “deciding not to return,” or otherwise vanishing with little to no explanation. The employer is kind and generous to her, so the housekeeper works with her head down. Until the new wife arrives…and the housekeeper develops feelings for her. Should she warn her?
Use these prompts for short story or novel ideas, writing exercises, or warm-ups! Remember you can always edit prompts, take one part of it, or interpret it in a different way.
Don’t restrict yourself into the confines of the prompt, but let it spark an idea you’re excited to write about.
Disclosure: Some of the links above may contain affiliate partnerships, meaning, at no additional cost to you, Self-Publishing School may earn a comission if you click through to make a purchase.